As has happened in similar contests around the country, the Republican primary for governor in Rhode Island is pushing candidates to positions outside the mainstream of Rhode Island voters. Both Republicans in the race, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Barrington resident Ken Block, have already begun to distance themselves from their earlier, more moderate positions on gun laws.
At the time of the Newtown school shooting, one could have been forgiven for thinking the tragedy would effect systemic change on American gun laws. Sadly, not even the sustained and emotionally charged lobbying efforts of the Newtown families could reach those who opposed even the most moderate restrictions. In state legislatures as well as the federal government itself, these attempts were defeated by the all-powerful National Rifle Association, causing national political positions on gun safety to further ossify.
Block, in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, indicated tentative support for an assault weapons ban — which, we should be clear, only targets the most dangerous form of guns, not those used for any kind of recreational hunting. Rather than standing by this admirable position that protects all citizens, particularly schoolchildren, and is utterly unthreatening to hunters, Block has chosen the cowardly route. He recently described his earlier sensible beliefs as “a mistake,” influenced by the emotional nature of the Newtown tragedy and promised that he has “no intention or desire to change the gun laws,” according to the Providence Journal.
For his part, Fung once supported increased firearms regulation but now claims that he is a “recreational” shooter and that his firing range experiences have caused him to rethink his past position. While he once supported a measure calling on Congress to renew the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, he now proclaims that he is committed to “upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” and that “the real issue is ensuring that guns don’t end up in the hands of criminals,” according to the Providence Journal. Unfortunately for Fung, the growing body of evidence is not on his side — a new study tracking the 2007 repeal of a Missouri law that had mandated gun purchasers to be vetted and licensed has found an increase of roughly 60 additional gun murders per year.
Both candidates are attempting to run to their right while painting their opponent as a flip-flopper. Unfortunately, both have demonstrated that they lack the courage needed to stand up to the most dangerous elements of their party, a decision that will likely prove costly in the general election. Each candidate should rethink their newfound message and refocus on a strategy that can provide safer communities for all Rhode Islanders. With convictions like these, who needs an opposition?
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.